How is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed?

Most kidney tumors do not have symptoms and are detected by chance because a patient undergoes imaging such as a CT scan for another health issue or symptom. If you have a kidney tumor, or symptoms such as blood in the urine, getting an accurate and definitive diagnosis will likely include several of the following:

  • Physical exam in which the doctor checks general signs of health and whether you have a fever or high blood pressure. The doctor will also feel your abdomen and side for a mass.
  • Urine tests to check for blood and other abnormal substances in the urine.
  • Blood tests to measure the level of several substances that indicate how your kidneys are working, such as creatinine and urea, and substances related to your bone such as calcium and alkaline phosphatase.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan that uses an x-ray machine linked to a computer to take a series of detailed pictures of the kidneys and any tumors. You may receive an injection of contrast dye so the kidneys show up clearly.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an imaging machine that uses a large magnet, a computer, and radio waves to look inside the body and evaluate the kidneys.
  • Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves that bounce off the kidneys. A computer uses the echoes to create a picture called a sonogram, which will reveal if a solid tumor or cyst is present.
  • Biopsy removes a bit of the tumor tissue for a pathologist to examine for cancer cells. An interventional radiologist uses imaging to guide insertion of a thin needle through the skin into the mass to extract a small amount of tissue, which is then examined by a pathologist to reach a diagnosis. This needle core biopsy can help determine if the tumor is cancer or benign.
  • Surgery to remove part or all of the kidney may be recommended based the results of imaging. A pathologist then makes the final diagnosis by examining the tissue removed during surgery under a microscope.

How is kidney cancer treated?Staging your kidney cancer

Get a second opinion

Is your kidney tumor even cancer? If you’d like Roswell Park’s kidney specialists to assess your tumor and review your imaging scans and biopsy before you undergo kidney surgery, please call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or fill out our online form.

The Roswell Park Advantage — Is it really cancer?

Kidney tumors are unique in that a biopsy can usually but not always determine conclusively whether the tumor is malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). To be on the safe side, many doctors recommend surgery to remove the tumor and sometimes the whole kidney, even before a biopsy, since they believe it cannot reliably prove the tumor is benign. Roswell Park physicians have developed a new approach to determine whether a tumor is cancerous or benign, sparing patients with benign tumors from unnecessary surgery. A team of Roswell Park urologists, diagnostic radiologists and pathologists created an algorithm — combining biopsy results with a molecular biomarker and a specific measurement captured by a CT scan — that was proven to have 100% accuracy in differentiating certain benign tumors from potentially dangerous, look-alike kidney cancers.